If you’re the type of gamer who needs your hand held and a long weaving story, then ABZÛ probably isn’t for you. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a bite sized adventure that provides a serene experience, ABZÛ comes as an easy recommendation. I remember seeing the reveal at E3 a few years back and I have kept it on my radar ever since. The art style is very reminiscent of indie darling Journey , and for good reason. Matt Nava, the lead art director of Journey, formed his own studio, Giant Squid, and ABZÛ is their first title.
Longevity isn’t a trait of this game as it clocks in at around two hours from start to finish, so don’t expect it to take you more than a few sittings to complete. Its short length makes it a great time killer while you wait for, say, No Man’s Sky to unlock before midnight—speaking from experience. And while it may be short lived, the journey is calming, and the visuals are mesmerizing all the way through.
If I were to base my review of ABZÛ solely on the gameplay it provides, then the score wouldn’t be as high. In terms of raw game mechanics, there’s not a whole lot going on other than swimming. The main draw of the game is exploration and atmosphere, an idea that is reinforced by the multiple meditation stones scattered throughout the seabed for you to sit and reflect on the environment around you. When you’re chillaxing you can freely move the camera around or make it follow any of the sea life in the area—you might even witness the food chain in action right before your eyes! Other than exploring, there are doors that need to be opened by finding and reactivating downed underwater drones or turning connected cranks, as well as schools of fish that need to be collected, but that’s pretty much it. I wouldn’t really call these puzzles, per se, since you don’t have to think of a solution to solve them. I also thought the underwater drones would play a larger part in the story and gameplay, but their use is short lived. I expected the drones would be constant companions throughout your adventure and have a deeper meaning There are seashells that will net you a trophy for you collectible addicts out there, and with the game being so bite sized it’s something I’m definitely going to do the second time I dive in. In a world where a lot of games are overflowing with mechanics and activities, it’s refreshing to play one that doesn’t require much thought and only asks for my time to experience it.
An emotional journey (heh… Journey) this is not, so don’t expect to have your heartstrings tugged by a deeply moving story. There is a great white shark you’ll form a bond with, along with some sci-fi and spiritual elements, but no obvious story spelled out. Hieroglyphics can be seen on the walls of some of the underground rooms but, for better or worse, a lot of the story seems left up to interpretation (although nowhere to the degree of acclaimed indie game INSIDE).
In my opinion, it’s smaller simpler titles like this that really give balance to the Fallouts and Witchers of the world. The visuals are bright and vibrant, with lush coral and flora in every direction, as well as fish, whales, and other aquatic life. Not only is the ocean teeming with sea creatures, but they also react as you swim through them, darting this way and that. They’ll also follow you around and you can grab the fin of say, a dolphin, and ride it around, doing twirls underwater and breaching the surface of the ocean. There are various types of environments and mini ecosystems you’ll encounter, all of which are a treat to the eyes and thankfully the ears. Fortunately, ABZÛ also shares the same composer as Journey, Austin Wintory. It’s Austin’s talent that ensures the game’s soundtrack isn’t a tacked on afterthought the way it is in some games. The ambient flow of the music really lends itself well to the curious nature of exploration throughout the game. There are some gameplay moments that have you rushing through a jet stream collecting schools of fish and others where you’re confronted by a sea of floating mines. In both instances the music fades in and out perfectly and really elevates the mood.
ABZÛ is a simple game, in case I haven’t hammered that idea home yet, whose journey is wonderful but brief. For me, it’s a background game to chill out with ala Flower or FEZ and if you liked those games, I see no reason why you wouldn’t like Giant Squid’s latest (and first) title. I look forward to whatever the studio’s next project is.